Thursday, July 03, 2008

Worried about Nuclear Power?

You shouldn't be ... or at least, you should be more worried about coal-burning power plants.

Seems as if the coal-burning process concentrates the radioactive elements naturally found in coal. In some places, the ash (the waste from coal-burning) contains up to 100x the amount of radioactivity than a similar amount of nuclear waste.
At issue is coal's content of uranium and thorium, both radioactive elements. They occur in such trace amounts in natural, or "whole," coal that they aren't a problem. But when coal is burned into fly ash, uranium and thorium are concentrated at up to 10 times their original levels.
It's not really much of an issue though. Researchers long ago figured out that being within close proximity of a coal-burning power plant raised your yearly exposure by about half a percentage point (0.5%).
McBride and his co-authors estimated that individuals living near coal-fired installations are exposed to a maximum of 1.9 millirems of fly ash radiation yearly. To put these numbers in perspective, the average person encounters 360 millirems of annual "background radiation" from natural and man-made sources, including substances in Earth's crust, cosmic rays, residue from nuclear tests and smoke detectors.
So, the moral of the story? Of all the things to worry about, nuclear and coal based energy aren't worth the effort.

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